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Egremont Green News: Festive tips for skipping all that holiday trash

Check with your town, but most paper and tissue gift wrappings, as well as cards, are recyclable as long as they don’t contain foil, metallic inks or glitter. And all those cardboard shipping boxes could make a great first layer of sheet mulching next spring.

Egremont — The holiday season will soon be upon us. As a foodie, I favor Thanksgiving over Christmas. Thanksgiving, after all, is all about the meal and the countless sides that fill your plate and accompany the turkey.

Potatoes, onions, parsley and Brussels sprouts grown in my Egremont garden will be part of my meal, and apples grown at nearby Windy Hill Farm will fill the pie. My French-Canadian grandmother wouldn’t think of hosting a Thanksgiving without turnips and creamed onions. My late husband, of German-Dutch heritage, included sauerkraut at Thanksgiving (try it, it’s actually very good!). And who doesn’t have a strong opinion on the “lumpy” vs. “jiggly, straight from the can” cranberry sauce debate? It’s a meal that lasts and lasts with very little going to waste in the wake of the leftovers, the sandwiches and the delicious turkey soup made from the carcass at the end.

But there is plenty of throwaway excess that comes, in general, with the holidays. For a zero-waste advocate, all the trashy temptations at this time of year are the equivalent of a weight-watcher’s horror at the abundance of sugary, empty-calorie treats.

Party ware, for starters. Food and entertaining take center stage during the holidays. Whether you are reaching for plates, cups, utensils and take-away containers for guests, try to use something that is reusable, like “real” plates and cups and glasses and cloth napkins. When that doesn’t seem possible, turn your thoughts to France.

Last year, France banned all disposable plastic plates, cups and utensils as of 2020. After that, only materials that can be composted will be permitted. Here in the U.S., compostable products are available in most stores now, and some even have holiday colors and patterns. Scraped compostable paper plates can go into your compost pile to reduce the heft of your trash.

For many households, the holidays are a time to light a tree to brighten the darkest days of the year.

A few years ago, I adopted a minimalist approach by decorating bare limbs left on my lawn after a heavy windstorm. But for families dedicated to freshly cut trees, our area is blessed with many tree farms. Buying from one of them supports the local economy and limits your investment in the greenhouse gases generated by trucking.

As to tree lights, strings of LED lights, which use considerable less electricity, are now readily available.

When the time comes to take down the tree, you can usually find people who are happy to accept them for mulching or other uses. Some stables happily feed the trees to their horses. If you find such a recipient, just be very careful to remove all hooks and tinsel. For a small fee, Steve Leining in Sheffield accepts trees as well as most brush and turns it all into compost and soil.

Gift wrap and packaging are also worrisome to anyone watching a community waste line.

A sample of ribbon and gift bag holdings. Photo: Juliette Haas

Let’s start with boxes. A barrage of those Amazon smiley faces showing up in our transfer station could make any zero-waste advocate frown. Yes, cardboard can be recycled into paper, but for the reasons we detailed in a recent column, it’s better for town finances to make the fewest possible dumpster runs. If you like to garden, consider flattening your boxes until next spring and using them as the first layer of sheet mulching. A member of our Green Committee highly recommends doing this.

As for gift wrap: One Christmas years ago, I took a firm stand and didn’t wrap a single present. Well, that didn’t work out so well. Festive wrapping, I learned, is a big part of gift giving, especially with children.

Check with your town, but most paper and tissue gift wrapping is recyclable as long as it doesn’t contain foil or metallic inks. Newspaper makes a fun wrapping. If you want your presents to have a little shine, you can use ribbons or bows – just don’t put them in the recycling bin with the gift wrap. Better yet, after the present has been opened, collect the bows, ribbons, boxes and gift bags. I’m a ribbon hoarder; I think I have pieces that have seen at least 25 years of reuse.

Juliette Haas, sustainability coordinator for Egremont and member of the Egremont Green Committee, wrote this article. Photo courtesy Egremont Green Committee

As to the gifts themselves, how many of us sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we possess?

This holiday season, consider gifts that leave little physical trace.

How about a winter-blooming house plant? Gourmet foods are always nice, and locally made and grown ones even nicer. Here in the Berkshires, we have wonderful local cheese, beer, meats, maple syrup, honey, ice cream, candy and granola.

And what about making something by hand? You could find yourself enjoying the time you spend making a present far more than the time you would spend shopping. And consider the gift of your presence and your time. Go out with someone and share an experience. Often, these are what will make friends and family happiest.

Charitable organizations, meanwhile, also accept donations intended to serve as gifts. I fondly remember the Christmas I “received” a goat as a gift. The goat really went to a family in need in Central America but, to this day, I think of the positive impact that gift must have made on their lives.

Contact the Egremont Green Committee at


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